04 Melda ChopinChopin
Lara Melda
Champs Hill Records CHRCD153 (laramelda.co.uk)

Chopin – the poet of the piano! What more can be said about this composer – born in Żelazowa Wola to a French father and a Polish mother – who embodied the spirit and soul of Poland, but lived his all-too-brief life in France? 170 years after his passing, his music continues to enthrall connoisseurs and amateurs alike; this disc on the Champs Hill label, presenting a new artist in her debut recording, is bound to be welcome.

Lara Melda was born in England of Turkish parentage. She studied at the Royal Academy, winning the BBC Young Musician competition in 2010 and since then, has continued to appear in recital throughout Europe and in other parts of the world.

The thoughtfully chosen program comprising seven nocturnes and the four ballades is a delight.  Melda approaches the music with an elegant sensitivity, her warm tone coupled with just the right degree of tempo rubato. The technical challenges inherent in these pieces, particularly the ballades, are daunting enough for any pianist, but she conquers them with apparent ease. There are times when her tempos – such as in the Nocturnes Op.9 No.3 or Op.48 No.1 – may seem a little brisk, but this is a minor issue and certainly doesn’t mar her fine performance.

Of the 11 tracks, among the highlights is surely the glorious fourth Ballade Op.52, considered by many to be one of Chopin’s greatest compositions, and also one of his most difficult. Melda does it full justice, from the lyrical and delicate opening measures to the frenetic coda which brings the disc to a satisfying conclusion. If this recording is any evidence of her musical stature, we can surely hope to hear from Lara Melda again in the near future.

05 Babayan RachmaniniffRachmaninoff
Sergei Babayan
Deutsche Grammophon (deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/sergei-babayan)

“The heat of Rachmaninoff’s music is like the heat of dry ice, it’s so cold that it burns you.” – Leon Fleisher

Like the memory of an enkindled winter’s kiss, Rachmaninoff can clutch you by the throat, not to mention the heart. The music transfixes our soul, engendering lifelong adoration for such immutable layers of melody, harmony and ebullient Slavic passion, penned only as the singular Sergei R could have.

Who of us, though, can truly know Rachmaninoff? From the 21st century’s vantage point – more than 75 years on from the composer-pianist’s death – his music is perpetrated the world over, arguably by far too many interpreters with far too little to say. Performing Rachmaninoff’s music has never been an easy feat but rarely does one encounter a quintessence, a spirit of truth from his espousers. To appropriate a quote from the composer himself, “but do they exalt?” 

With so much performance practice swirling around Sergei (R) and his catalogue, richly gifted and rare, sympathetic interpreters such as Sergei (B), tend to twinkle and gleam atop the pianistic flotsam we hear all too often from – those self-indulgent, over-wrought bloviators Rachmaninoff’s music seems perennially entrapped by. In the hands of Babayan, the listener finally beholds an inheritance: a musical – cultural – inheritance that is fierce yet fragile, at moments comprised only of single, radiating strands. Transmuting this elusive, quintessential expression, Babayan fully fathoms this coveted lineage and his own recent contribution to it.

06 Elmas Piano ConcertosThe Romantic Piano Concerto Vol.82: Stéphan Elmas – Piano Concertos Nos.1 & 2
Howard Shelley; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Hyperion CDA68319
(hyperion-records.co.uk/ dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68319)

Stéphan Elmas? Who? One could be forgiven if the name seems unfamiliar, but during his lifetime, this Armenian pianist-turned-composer was a respected musician and pedagogue. Born into a well-to-do family in Smyrna (now Izmir) in 1862, he showed musical promise at an early age and later studied in Vienna, making his debut in 1885 to great acclaim. Elmas ultimately turned to composition, writing in a conservative style not dissimilar to that of Anton Rubinstein – and with more than a passing nod to Chopin.   His style is perhaps nowhere better represented than in the two piano concertos featured on this Hyperion disc with Howard Shelley performing and also directing the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the latest in the Romantic Piano Concerto series.

The Concerto in G Minor from 1882 is very much a product of its time. Encompassing a large canvas – the first movement is 19 minutes alone – the work allows the soloist plenty of opportunity to display their technical prowess, juxtaposed with sections which are quietly introspective. The formidable technical demands should come as no surprise – after all, the composer was also a virtuoso pianist.  Throughout, Shelley performs with a solid conviction at all times demonstrating carefully nuanced phrasing and a flawless technique, while the TSO proves to be a solid and sensitive partner.

The second concerto, written five years later, contains the same degree of attractive interplay between piano and orchestra. Once again, Elmas’ profound gift for melody shines through brightly – particularly in the second movement Andante – and more than makes up for any shortcomings the piece may have with respect to form and thematic development.

While these concertos aren’t in the same league as those of Brahms or Rachmaninoff, they’re worthy examples worth investigating. Thanks to Shelley and the TSO, they’ll be prevented from languishing in undeserved obscurity.

07 Florent SchmittFlorent Schmitt – The Tragédie de Salomé
Susan Platts; Nikki Chooi; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8574138 (naxosdirect.com/search/8574138)

JoAnn Falletta’s conducting career goes from strength to strength: music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic; myriad recordings for Naxos; a 2019 Grammy Award. The four works on this disc by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) demonstrate Falletta’s ability to attain expressive, assured results with complex scores for large orchestra. The composer’s style extends the scope of French Impressionism, with rich and fluid sonorities but also with passages that feature more dissonant writing. 

Musique sur l’eau (1898) is sung by mezzo Susan Platts with a full and seamless tone that goes well with Schmitt’s lush, colourful setting. The symphonic poem La Tragédie de Salomé (1910, revised from the earlier ballet) opens with an evocative prelude out of which a wonderfully played English horn solo takes the lead. In the succeeding dances, menacing strings and violent brass interpolations prefigure a horrific ending. Another ballet-based work is the Suite – Oriane et le Prince d’Amour (1934-37). In this later work, Schmitt’s harmonic language has advanced considerably, with lush and complex chords and figurations that Falletta and the excellent Buffalo players navigate with well-paced clarity. The dance in 5/4 time in this work is a motivic and rhythmic tour de force. Finally, the violin-orchestra version of Légende, Op.66 (1918) receives its recording premiere here. Légende is a staple of the alto saxophone repertoire, but with the well-modulated, expressive tone of Canadian violinist Nikki Chooi it also comes across exceedingly well in this version.

05 Entente MusicaleEntente Musicale – Music for Violin and Piano
Simon Callaghan; Clare Howick
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0625 (naxosdirect.com/search/sommcd+0625)

Entente translates as a friendly understanding or informal alliance between two people or states. SOMM has titled a new CD Entente Musicale, which qualifies appropriately the collaboration of violinist Clare Howick and pianist Simon Callaghan and indirectly, the English and French repertoire included. Howick is acknowledged as being in the forefront of a generation of inspired violinists. The Strad is not stinting in their praise, finding her “playing with beguiling warmth and affection.” The American Record Guide qualifies her as “simply spectacular.” Callaghan has been commended in The Strad for his “velvet-gloved pianism of ravishing sensitivity.” Together they give shining performances of these well-chosen works:  Delius – Violin Sonata in B Major; Cyril Scott – Cherry Ripe and Valse Caprice; Debussy – Violin Sonata in G Minor; John Ireland – Violin Sonata No.1 in D Minor; Ravel – Pièce en forme de Habañera; Bax – Mediterranean

Some of the works may be familiar and others will surely find new fans. New to me is the Delius sonata, published after his death. Delius, born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1862 but preferring to live in France, had three violin sonatas published, but this one, written in 1892-93 in Paris where he had taken up residence in 1888, was turned down by his publisher. Perhaps it was because of the unusual key of B Major, muses the author of the comprehensive booklet. Delius held on to it and here it is. The first movement, Allegro con brio, is dramatically optimistic. The second movement, Andante moto tranquillo, is typical Delius and exquisite beyond words, resolving in the third movement, Allegro con moto. The duo plays the Jascha Heifetz arrangements of the Ravel Pièce and the joyful Bax Mediterranean.

09 Villa Lobos SymphoniesVilla-Lobos – Complete Symphonies
São Paulo Symphony; Isaac Karabtchevsky
Naxos 8506039 (naxosdirect.com/search/8506039)

Among the amazingly prolific Heitor Villa-Lobos’ 2,000-plus works are 11 audacious, spellbinding yet little-known symphonies, composed at opposite ends of his career. Except for the epic Symphony No.10, they sort themselves into pairs, stylistically and by date of composition. 

As a boy, Villa-Lobos learned to play clarinet and cello from his father. Adding guitar to his skills, he performed Brazilian popular and folkloric music with salon ensembles, and symphonic and operatic repertoire as an orchestral cellist. Slighting institutional composition study, Villa-Lobos absorbed Vincent d’Indy’s pedagogical Cours de Composition Musicale, leading to his trademark mix of European late-Romanticism with Brazilian melodic and rhythmic exoticism. 

Symphonies No.1 “Unforeseen” (1916) and No.2 “Ascension” (1917, revised 1944), with their lush sonorities, gorgeous, broadly flowing string melodies, chattering woodwinds suggestive of an active Brazilian rain forest, brass fanfares and throbbing percussion, find the young Villa-Lobos effectively creating a stereotypical “Hollywood sound” well before sound’s arrival in Hollywood.

After World War I ended, Villa-Lobos was commissioned by Brazil’s National Institute of Music to compose three celebratory symphonies: No.3 “War,” No.4 “Victory” and the now-lost, never-performed No.5 “Peace,” perhaps unfinished. Requiring huge forces, “War” and “Victory” (both 1919) contain martial fanfares, anguished dirges and percussion-heavy, explosive battle music, “Victory” ending in a triumphal fortississimo.

Villa-Lobos wouldn’t produce another symphony for 24 years, while composing many other orchestral, chamber and vocal works, eight of his nine Bachianas Brasileiras, all 17 Chôros and dozens of piano pieces, also serving as director of music education for Brazilian public schools.

The angular themes of Symphony No.6 “On the Outlines of the Mountains” (1944) were derived by tracing the contours of photographed mountaintops. The opening movements conjure foreboding, rugged, desolate vistas; the Allegretto and final Allegro bathe the vast panoramas in bright sunlight. The four movements of Symphony No.7 “Odyssey of Peace” (1945) closely mirror those of No.6, with similar tempo markings, timings and moods. Here, turbulence and slowly drifting tonal centres precede two buoyantly joyous movements, the closing seconds echoing the bombast of the “Victory” finale after World War I. 

The unsubtitled Symphonies No. 8 (1950) and No.9 (1952) are Villa-Lobos’ most concise – No.9, just under 22 minutes, is the shortest of all. Both are infused with confident, upbeat melodies, mechanized urban rhythms and dense metallic textures, reflecting the revitalized post-war sense of optimism and material progress.

After these two succinct symphonies evoking modern technology, Villa-Lobos about-faced with the grandiloquent, hour-long Symphony No.10 “Ameríndia” for large orchestra, tenor, baritone and bass soloists and chorus singing in Portuguese, Latin and indigenous language Tupi. (In this performance, the entire tenor section sings the tenor solo.) Commissioned for São Paulo’s 1954 quadricentennial, “Ameríndia” also bears the designation Oratorio and a second subtitle, “Sumé, Father of Fathers.” Sumé, the mythical bringer of knowledge to pre-Columbian Brazil, is here conflated with the 16th-century Jesuit missionary St. José de Anchiera. The music for this sonic extravaganza creates a blazingly coloured tapestry weaving paganism, Christianity, mystical lamentation, ecstasy and exultation. It’s totally thrilling!

The opening fanfares, lush melodies and exotic colours of Symphony No.11 (1955) recall Villa-Lobos’ cinematic early symphonies, now with even greater rhythmic, harmonic and textural complexity. No.12 (1957), completed on Villa-Lobos’ 70th birthday, features more fanfares, vibrant rhythms and colours, a mystery-shrouded, near-atonal Adagio and a final, multi-thematic, kaleidoscopic display of orchestral fireworks. 

Further enriching this six-CD treasure-trove are two folklore-inspired works depicting mythical jungle spirits: the tone-poem Uirapuru (1917) and the choral cantata Mandu-Çarará (1940), sung in indigenous language Nheengatu. (Texts and translations for this and “Ameríndia” are provided.)

With definitive, super-charged performances by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Brazilian-born Isaac Kabatchevsky, this set is most enthusiastically recommended!

02 Piazzolla GallianoPiazzolla & Galliano – Concertos
Jovica Ivanović; Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra; Vitaliy Prostasov
Navona Records nv6317 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6317)

Serbian-Austrian classical accordionist Jovica Ivanović and his colleagues, concertmaster/violinist Valeriy Sokolov and the Ukrainian Chamber Orchestra under conductor Vitaliy Protasov, shine in their collaborative performances of concertos by prominent composers Astor Piazzolla and Richard Galliano. Each three-movement, fast/slow/fast, thoughtful, detailed concerto illuminates Ivanović’s talents and the tight ensemble playing of all the musicians.

Piazzolla’s Aconcagua, a concerto for bandoneón, percussion and string orchestra, was a favourite of Piazzolla himself and it encompasses his characteristic rhythmical tango nuevo melodies and orchestral sonorities. The bandoneón part translates well onto accordion as Ivanović’s intuitive musical performance is highlighted by his detached notes, florid ornamentations and clear fast runs. The orchestral balance is perfect, especially during the ringing, low-pitched string-bass accompaniments.

French composer/accordionist Galliano’s Opale Concerto for accordion and string orchestra is a mix of French, American and Balkan styles. The first movement is slightly more atonal, with such accordion specialities as bellows shakes, accented chords and wide-pitched lines alternating with string solos. The slower second movement starts with a lyrical solo, until the orchestral entry creates a “merry-go-round” reminiscent soundscape. The faster third movement builds excitement with conversational shorter accented melodies until the final ascending accordion glissando ends it with a decisive bang.

Ivanović is a superb accordionist, well-matched to the string players’ collective musicianship. Their interpretations make the Piazzolla and Galliano compositions resonate with permanent eloquence.

03 Godfrey RidoutGodfrey Ridout – The Concert Recordings
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 28220 (cmccanada.org/shop/cmccd-28220)

Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984) was “an old-school gentleman,” conservative in deportment, attire (three-piece suits) and compositional style. I knew him also to be very accessible, forthright and warm-hearted – just like his music! This welcome CD presents concert performances from 1975-1993, drawn from the CBC archives.

Cantiones Mysticae No.2 – The Ascension (1962) is set to a sixth-century hymn sung in English by sunny-voiced soprano Janet Smith, Brian Law conducting Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings. As the text proclaims, it opens “with a merry noise and… the sound of the trumpet” (played by Stuart Douglas Sturdevant). One line in the serene second section – “Rescue, recall into life those who are rushing to death” – was, wrote Ridout, his son critically ill during its composition, “a cri de coeur… that really struck home.”

The darkly dramatic Two Etudes for string orchestra (1946) comprise the sepulchral No.1 (Andante con malinconia) and the chugging freight train of No.2, briefly stalled by a misterioso passage. Mario Bernardi conducts the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. Violinist Victor Martin, pianist George Brough and the Chamber Players of Toronto perform Ridout’s period-jostling Concerto Grosso (1974), the jaunty neo-Baroque Allegro and sprightly Vivace straddling the extended Mahlerian Adagio. Commissioned to honour the U.S. Bicentennial, the melodic, extroverted George III His Lament – Variations on a Well-known Tune (1975) finds “avowed monarchist” Ridout playfully employing a theme from “the losing side.” Simon Streatfeild conducts the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Gratifying listening for all who remember Godfrey Ridout – and all who don’t!

04 Jacques HetuJacques Hétu – Musique pour vents
Pentaèdre; Philip Chiu
ATMA ACD2 2792 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Jacques Hétu (1938-2010) was among the leading Canadian classical composers and music educators of his generation, spending his academic career at several Montreal-area universities.

Hétu composed primarily for established forces including piano, string quartet, orchestral winds, symphony orchestra and opera in a style he once described as “incorporating neo-classical forms and neo-romantic effects in a musical language using 20th-century techniques.” His post-Alban Bergian idiom made him one of the most frequently performed Canadian composers during his career.

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of Hétu’s death, this album presents the Pentaèdre wind ensemble and pianist Philip Chiu in a program reflecting the composer’s keen and abiding interest in both wind instruments and the piano. The brilliant Quebec-based Pentaèdre currently comprising Ariane Brisson (flute), Élise Poulin (oboe), Martin Carpentier (clarinet), Louis-Philippe Marsolais (horn) and Mathieu Lussier (bassoon) takes centre stage on the album.

Hétu’s Wind Quintet and compositions for solo winds and piano invite us to discover afresh his idiosyncratic and imaginative modernist musical universe. The works draw out the best qualities of each woodwind instrument, at the same time stretching their technical, colouristic, expressive and ensemble capabilities. This music demands a high level of musicianship and Pentaèdre delivers.

The 12-minute 1967 Quintet is a standout. Mixing serial, modal and tonal languages, it’s skillfully scored, effectively showcasing each instrument and subgrouping. No wonder this dramatic work has become a favourite among Canadian wind quintets.

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05 Hamburger SymphoniesJaap Nico Hamburger – Chamber Symphonies 1 & 2
Ensemble Caprice; Matthias Maute; l’Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal; Vincent de Kort
Leaf Music LM235 (leaf-music.ca)

Interesting, musical, inventive and new original Canadian classical music is a reason to celebrate indeed! Here, with two chamber symphonies, composer Jaap Nico Hamburger finds inspiration in honour of Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands to create beautiful and well-executed long-form pieces that, while dealing with the difficult theme of the brutality of war, leave listeners with an appreciation of musical excellence and a lingering sense of hopeful optimism. 

Recorded in Quebec in 2019 by Ensemble Caprice under the direction of Matthias Maute, Chamber Symphony No. 1 “Remember to Forget,” explores, as a tone poem, the metaphor of a train journey in sound, highlighting the teleological nature of life as we, individual agents, push forward through times of challenge and adversity towards forgiveness, atonement and a life worth living. Inspired by the sounds and biography of composer György Ligeti (1923-2006), the offering here is as complex and nuanced as the subject theme itself: strident at times, then mitigated by moments of tranquil introspection. Percussion heavy, the piece dips occasionally into carnivalesque sounds and emotions that imbue a playful and irreverent spirit into this otherwise serious piece. 

Chamber Symphony No. 2 “Children’s War Diaries” features l’Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal and explores one of the darkest periods of history, the Holocaust, channelling the writing of Hamburger’s grandmother, Jannie Moffie-Bolle, whose autobiography Een hemel zonder vogels (“A sky without birds”) documented her experiences as a teenager in Nazi Germany. As the liner notes attest, the themes explored are sobering but important. These two Chamber Symphonies add much to the canon of Canadian classical composition and are well worth your time.

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06 John RobertsonJohn Robertson – Symphonies 4 & 5 Meditation: In Flanders Fields
Bratislava Symphony Orchestra; Anthony Armore
Navona Records nv6325 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6325)

Anachronism is no sin nor is theft a crime when it comes to making art, not if they are accomplished with subtlety or humour. My favourite 20th-century tomb raider was Alfred Schnittke, who suffered modernity’s loss of innocence, together with nostalgia for past forms. The suffering served as impetus for his most tragic and comic utterances. Which brings me to New Zealand/Canadian composer John Robertson, and his Symphonies 4 and 5.

This music seems happily, painlessly anachronistic, full of bright orchestral effects and warm, tonal harmonies. The second movement of Symphony No.4 is a Sicilienne, a gently progressing dance in 12/8 metre, wherein an oboe laments sweetly over ghostly strings and celesta. The familiar character in the opening of the same work’s first movement recalls so much the wind writing of Carl Nielsen. For a brief moment one hears Shostakovich call out a trill from his own Fourth Symphony at the opening of the third movement. Coincidence? Homage, perhaps, although the body of the theme sounds more like Holst: a jocular, folksong-march. 

The Fifth Symphony revisits Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Samuel Barber as well. Included with the symphonies is a threnody: Meditation: In Flanders’ Fields. Leaving my thoughts on the poem out of this, I’ll say the music accompanying the recited text is fitting, including the requisite bugle call. Take up a quarrel with me on this if you must. 

Robertson is a capable composer, and not, apparently, a suffering genius à la Schnittke. The works are substantive and also pleasurable to hear, which is a refreshing anachronism in and of itself.

07 Julia Den BoerLineage
Julia Den Boer
Redshift Records TK476 (redshiftrecords.org)

French-American pianist Julia Den Boer confidently delivers Lineage, an album of contemporary solo piano music with ties to Montreal. Den Boer’s impressive technical prowess is brilliantly revealed from several angles as each piece on this recording presents high degrees of challenging material. 

First, Chris Paul Harman’s 371 Chorales (2016) is a wonderful gem full of shimmering charm and glistening high-register counterpoint – a delightful miniature that expands upon the composer’s predilection toward recontextualizing old material. Brian Cherney’s multi-movement Tombeau (1996) is a mature work of a modernist approach that sends the listener through a gamut of contrasting expressive landscapes – terrain that Den Boer handles with world-class musicianship. The serendipitous monophony of Matthew Ricketts’ Melodia (2017) is a deeply original work that relies on decidedly exposed lines. This music allows the piano to sing wonderfully in the hands of Den Boer, and is a refreshing reminder that newly composed piano works do not require a maximal approach to produce successful results.

Lastly, Reiko Yamada’s Cloud Sketches (2010) is a substantial work comprised of scalar flourishes and prickly interruptions that evoke a series of conversations and contemplative interludes. With such contrasting works, each demanding in wildly different ways, this release is a strong statement showing Den Boer’s importance as a contemporary music interpreter.

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08 Martin ArnoldMartin Arnold – Stain Ballads
Apartment House
Another Timbre at166 (anothertimbre.com)

Canadian composer Martin Arnold’s illustrious compositions over the decades are so very much his own sound. Here UK-based ensemble Apartment House perform four works in which Arnold strives to combine lyricism with formlessness in his self-described “stain ballads.” As Arnold explains on the Another Timbre label’s website, “Stains are … always stain-shaped but don’t present a form… form and content are the same thing.” 

Opening track Lutra (2017) for cello and humming is given a slow and reflective performance by Apartment House founder and director, Anton Lukoszevieze. The high-pitched cello opening leads to a lower-range bowed melody, with alternating high and low pitches united by humming and delicate cello lyricism. Stain Ballad (2016), for seven-piece orchestra, also encompasses the contrasting ideas of held string notes, here versus detached piano lines and percussion throbs, as all the instruments are musically balanced and blended in Arnold’s expert “story-telling” orchestration.

Arnold’s understanding of held string capabilities makes the cello/violin duet Trousers (2017) sound like a full orchestra. A more fragmented work with minimalistic touches, quiet breaks between phrases, bowed strings, pitch slides and mid-piece dissonant lines are just a few sounds Lukoszevieze and violinist Mira Benjamin play, sparking listening interest! Great inclusion is Arnold’s earlier career quartet Slip (1999), a jig-like dance with opening bass clarinet/violin/cello uneven phrases until the accented piano chordal entry adds percussive flavours.

Arnold’s tightly interwoven “formless” lyricism, combined with these dedicated performances, create captivating colourful music.

09 Linda Smith MeadowLinda Catlin Smith – Meadow
Mia Cooper; Joachim Roewer; William Butt
Louth Contemporary Music Society LCMS20201 (louthcms.org/recordings)

The enchanting stillness and hypnotic beauty of sprawling mossy fields has been captured ever so deeply by Linda Catlin Smith in her new work, Meadow, for string trio. This gentle music paints an endless moment amid the green-lit swaying turf. Sonorous pulsating chords and brief melodic offerings envelop the ears much like cascading grassy plains wrapping around bark and stone. Smith’s unparalleled command over the fusion of colour and harmony is immediately captivating. This sound world is a tapestry woven with delicate care and personal magic. At times, the distinctly fragmentary material forms echoes in the mind’s eye: glimpses of forgotten images begin to surface and radiate throughout the heath. The trio’s performance (Mia Cooper, violin; Joachim Roewer, viola; William Butt, cello) on this release was accomplished with extraordinary intimacy. The pureness of tone and capacity for expression result in a profoundly successful interpretation of Smith’s poetic intention. 

This recording comes as the first release in an initiative from the Louth Contemporary Music Society, titled out of silence, to produce meaningful recordings under the exceptional conditions of the pandemic. While the pandemic continues to be a struggle for many, we thank artists for their commitment toward creation and for reminding us why we need art in our lives. When listening to the striking grace of Smith’s Meadow, many things come to mind and many emotions are felt throughout – I suppose this can all be summarized with the phrase “Thank you.”

10 Happiness in a Troubled World HorvatHappiness in a Troubled World
Frank Horvat
Independent (frankhorvat.com)

Written as an offering to a world in need of healing, Happiness in the Troubled World is a potent mixture of ambient sounds and well-thought-out musical ideas. This music has the potential to shift your energy, calm your mind and expand your awareness. 

Frank Horvat’s latest album is inspired by the Dalai Lama’s book The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World. Six compositions bear the titles of the final six chapters of the book and each is inspired by a quote from that book. Choosing an ambient electronic genre allowed Horvat to create a perfect musical vessel for expressing the noble ideas of empathy and compassion, hope and optimism. The building and ever-changing layers of sound generate the feeling of being in the womb of the world that is mending and healing. The textures throughout are smooth, unperturbed. In each of the compositions Horvat creates the safe space for a listener to expand their own aspirations for the world we share. 

The album opens with peacefully neutral Coping with a Troubled World. It then continues with pulsing sounds and bright piano in Hope, Optimism and Resilience. The lightness and joyfulness increase with each composition until the final number, Empathy, Compassion and Finding Happiness in the Troubled World, brings an incredible sense of peace.

If you are looking for a meditative, calm sonic space that induces happiness and optimism, this album is perfect for you.

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11 MC MaguireMC Maguire – Saturation Velocity
MC Maguire; Keith Kirchoff; Bryan Holt
Albany Records TROY1843 (albanyrecords.com)

Toronto composer/producer M.C. Maguire is a music alchemist, making sophisticated post-modern musical hybrids combining Western classical, pop, jazz and electroacoustic elements. His works often transform electronics, samples and acoustic instrument soloists into an intense wall of sound, accumulating up to 300 tracks.

Maguire’s fourth album, Saturation Velocity, is no exception, though it’s important to observe that his compositions are centred on carefully notated sheet scores, for the solo acoustic instruments at least. 

According to the composer’s notes, the first track A Teenage Dream for piano & CPU (“ for the less-computer-savvy like me) is based on four songs by pop singer/songwriter Katy Perry. Other source material used – to contrast the pop elements – are bits of Thomas Tallis (“for religiosity,” comments the composer), plus two passages from Wagner’s Das Rheingold. The structure of the work consists of four large murals each inside an Alban Berg-ian “forward/retrograde ordering,” that formally connects the murals. But what I hear is essentially a complex, nearly 29-minute piano concerto with CPU accompaniment, featuring four solo piano cadenzas which Maguire cheekily calls, “Bill Evans plays Schoenberg.” American experimental music virtuoso, pianist Keith Kirchoff, turns in a spectacular performance here, though some of his pianism gets lost among the dense sonic jungle overgrowth. 

Sade auf Kashmir, another concerto – this for cello with CPU – is based on the sonic intertwining of singer Sade’s No Ordinary Love and rock band Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. Toronto cellist Brian Holt lifts his technically demanding part off the page with accuracy and panache. 

Will this music be your cup of tea? I don’t know, but now it is mine.

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